Living on the Earth
The 'Sixties Communes:
Hippies and Beyond
...eventually the communes movement was producing books of its own, books that in some cases got wide circulation and introduced a great many young persons to the idealized delights of intentional community. The foremost of that genre was Living On The Earth, a hand-lettered and whimsically illustrated paean to dropout life by Alicia Bay Laurel, written while she was living at Wheeler's Ranch, an open-land community in California. Originally published by a small press called Bookworks in Berkeley, the book was picked up by Random House and--in the wake of a surge of publicity that included three major notices in the New York Times in the space of six days, among them a glowing review by Raymond Mungo in the Times Book Review--found an enormous nationwide audience.
Timothy Miller is the Chairman of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, and the author of three books about intentional communities.
The New York Times Book Review
Living on the earth is fun, much more fun than reviewing books about it: but Alicia Bay Laurel (is it a girl? is it a tree?) has made such a beautiful, such a divine and practical book, it's a pleasure to tell you about it.
Pleasure's the whole point of course, the pleasures of working with the free and rich resources of the planet in order not only to survive, but to live like kings and queens of the cosmos, richer than Rockefeller often on the per-capita income of Indians on the reservation.
Alicia's book is rapidly making its way into the reservations, which you might also call the rural communes, the end of the road, or the temples. If you were me, you'd see it everywhere you go. Ah, you'll see if everywhere anyway...
Living On The Earth is a big paperback melody of "storm warnings, formulas, recipes, rumors and country dances" not written but "harvested by" Miss Bay Laurel, with many graceful line drawings by herself. The text is not set in type, but written by hand, and in the ink is not black, but a subtle sepia color.
It tells you what you want to know. About cooking, carpentry, heat, cold, clothing and sewing, gardening, music, yoga, astrology, wood, water, the heavens, crafts, art, life, and even Death. How to cremate a friend on an efficient and ceremonious funeral pyre. How to waterproof your boots, turn an Army blanket into a Moroccan-style djilleva, or a long robe. How to bake bread, of course, but also how to make soap, hammocks, pillows, sandals, flutes, broccoli, mayonnaise and Space.
"How to Slow Down." "The Truth About Soup." Herbal medicines for toothache, insomnia or impotence.
Well, maybe not everything. As you and I are proving at this moment, there's always another word to add, another book, another unending voice in the psychic atmosphere. There are many other books and magazines devoted to advice-for-the-survivors which have won attention and love in communal households: The Mother Earth News, Whole Earth Catalog, Canadian Whole Earth Almanac, and many good cookbooks, the I. Ching, the Merck Manual and thousands more. They're all useful to some degree, some of them also funny, wise and beautiful. Alicia Bay Laurel's is the best merger I've ever seen of the practical and the beautiful aspects such a book can have.
It is beautiful to see, hold, touch. The drawings and design radiate warmth, simplicity, sincerity. The whole effect of the books, as an object, is to induce serenity and goodwill; people reading it have been observed to smile and be happy, shout "O Wow!", furiously copy down instructions for making some chair or souffle, and finally and ineluctably pass this book on to a friend.
Alicia is smiling now, as well she might. She's happy to make me happy, though we've never met. I'm happy to make you happy. Get it?
Because, you see, what's more: Living On The Earth is not just for hippies who do. It's especially attractive to folks who live in big cities on an ever-tightening budget and wish to hell they could move to a quiet lovely country or seacoast house and peacefully enjoy their own bodies; and that's just about everybody.
Most of the information in it is useful to everybody everywhere who wants to enjoy and play with the good things in this life. The vegetables, the cloth, the weather, the colors, the sounds: all the real material pleasures your body can stand, not of the plastic, all of the wealth of the universe, none of the money. All of the mystery, none of the boredom.
Such extravagance, can it be true? Yes, it can. At least, it's a view of reality. You can buy your clothes on Fifth Avenue, eat in restaurants, and register your checkbook balance in your central nervous system: but Alicia Bay Laurel will show you a better way, less pretentious, more enjoyable. She's Only Human after all, and must have had some sad and sour moments in her life like the rest of us, but she's saved up in the cedar-chest only the best, most constructive and selfless, revelation about to life to help all of us, including Alicia, get along.
Get ready. Hell is always there, city or country, if you want to live in it. Heaven is nicer. Both of them are on the earth. God is on the earth, also the devil. Maybe they are the same. If Alicia Bay Laurel chooses to be a ray of God, so can you and I. So there. Reviewer secretly in love with author, also with reader. What a story! Living On The Earth is a pretty strong title. Think about it.
"The book of Tao says," Alicia tells us, "that every day the scholar must know more & more, but the follower of Tao must know less and less. Eventually I must say 'no' to this unceasing tide of information. This book is already too thick. But, if the tide bends me again, this book will have a sequel. Besides, it was fun drawing all these pictures."
"Living On The Moon"?
The Village Voice, New York City
Along with the do-it-yourself-kits, magazines and other promos have been the run of books on "Grow Your Own Organic Garden", "Cure Your Own Head Cold With Herbs," "Build Your Own Home," "Bake Your Own Bread," "Have Your Own Baby." And frankly, though their covers and titles may be intriguing, once you've read them, it's nothing that hasn't already been pounded to death in Family Circle or Good Housekeeping. And if you've been a regular reader of some of the underground papers' yoga, health and food columns, than a lot of those books will read like instant replays since most of the hipper alternate-counter-culture printed matter is just that--collected columns. Nothing new.
But there are two new, very special books which I highly recommend as survival aids for health and head. One is Living On The Earth by Alicia Bay Laurel (Vintage Books, $3.95) which has already been accepted by the book critics with open arms and throbbing hearts, and rightly so. Ray Mungo's review of it in the Sunday New York Times book section was as gloriously written as the book itself. Alicia Bay Laurel and Ray Mungo were made for each other.
Living On The Earth is a living experience. It compounds all of the Whole Earth Catalog's hard core information with all the personal warmth and feeling that a girl with a melodically infatuating name like Alicia Bay Laurel could possess. It's written more from and for the heart than the head. Yet she manages to cover every single aspect of survival, starting with camping, to "simple shelters," to making musical instruments, to all areas of sewing, candlemaking, first aid, cremation, midwifing, "useful addresses for all sorts of extraneous supplies, etc. etc. I mean, you name it and Alicia Bay Laurel has explained it, and not only that, but has made the whole thing flow with her simple line drawings and hand-written directions. I reads as if she were writing a never-ending letter to you and you alone.
To say Living On The Earth is a must just ain't enuf...it's a necessity. And for the back-to-the-landers it will no doubt become a bible.
The natural effect of the new Awareness was a heightened Earth Consciousness, and as Hippies began to feel the mystical connection of their very Beings as being intertwined and interdependent with that of the Planet, they began to be able to see their World as the enchanted land it is - a loving Mother Nature that nourished their very lives, and concern for the environment grew and information and "shining examples" of the new ways of living and thinking quickly spread. Ironically, the new way of living was in many cases a return to the old way of living, as people began to turn away from the high-voltage, high-powered tools and gadgets, poisons and medications of modern society, and to cherish the simple and natural, the homemade and homegrown.
Proof of the Revolution abounded. In 1968, the informative Whole Earth Catalog was born, a cherished publication that offered information on not only how to live Life more naturally, but held an extensive list of goods and services available with which to do so.
Another great source of Earthy information of the"Back to the Land Movement" of the day was Alicia Bay Laurel's Living on the Earth.Written on Wheeler's open land ranch, It was a delightfully illustrated and in-depth how-to-survive in the country manual "for people who would rather chop wood than work behind a desk." The book was also a milestone marking the height of a Hippie way of living that was close to nature, with a focus on sustainable living and communal consciousness.
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